Food Security is the potential to assure, on a long term basis, that the system provides the total population access to a timely, reliable and nutritionally adequate supply of food. The World Food Summit of 1996 defined food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. As the world population is increasing day by day it is necessary to sustainably increase agricultural production, improve the global supply chain, decrease food losses and waste. Food insecurity can lead to lower psychological ability, declined work performance and substantial productivity losses. All of these can hamper the growth and development of national economy. Climate change, government policies of public distribution and marketing of food grains are also some factors contributing to slow down the availability of foods.
Attainment of self sufficiency in food grains at the national level is one of the country’s major achievements in the post-independence period. After remaining a food deficit country for about two decades after independence, India became largely self-sufficient in food grain production at the macro level. There have hardly been any food grain imports after the mid-1970s. Since green revolution in 1970, there has been significant increase in productivity of cereals especially wheat and rice in these regions during 1970s and mid-1980s due to adoption of high-yielding seeds, expansion in irrigation, use of chemical fertilizers and agro-chemicals, and farm mechanization. Food grain production in the country increased from about 50 million tons in 1950-51 to around 277.49 million tons in 2017-18.
India was ranked 97 out of 118 on the Global Hunger Index (GHI) in 2016. GHI rates nations nutritional status based on indicators of undernourishment, child wasting, stunting and mortality. Despite ranking above some of the world’s poorest nations, India’s reduction in malnourishment has been slow as compared to its recent strong economic growth and puts it behind poorer neighboring countries. India has fallen from 80th to 97th since 2000.
- A large number of people migrate from rural areas to urban cities. The world’s poor and food insecure mostly depend on agricultural and natural resources based livelihoods. Migration of people to urban areas has resulted in a number of slum settlements characterized by inadequate water and sanitation facilities, insufficient housing and increased food insecurity.
- Most of the urban slums have people who are unaware of the government schemes. People from these slums have to buy their food from the common market at the competitive price and are devoid of the subsidized food made available through Public Distribution System (PDS).
- Overpopulation, poverty, lack of education and gender inequality are also responsible for food insecurity. Poverty is a major cause as it limits the amount of food available to children. Overpopulation is linked to competition for food and can lead to malnutrition amongst children, especially in rural areas where access to food is limited. Gender inequality causes female child to suffer more because they are last to eat and considered less important.
- The cost of food items is increasing rapidly, making them unaffordable for most of the people and the short supply of pulses and edible oils, forces the government to import them.
- Climate perturbations in the form of heat, uneven rainfall and drought pattern leads to new disease and pest incidence, pose another challenge to the crop improvement strategy.
- Inadequate distribution of food through public distribution mechanisms (PDS i.e. Public Distribution System) is also a reason for growing food insecurity in the country. The Targeted Public Distribution System (TPDS) has disadvantage in the sense that those who are the right candidates to deserve the subsidy are excluded on the basis of non-ownership of below poverty line (BPL) status, as the criterion for identifying a household as BPL is arbitrary and varies from state to state.
- Multiple layers of middlemen between the farmer and the end consumer, driving up prices and reducing bargaining power and price transparency for the farmers.
Food security in India can be achieved by paying more attention to issues such as climate change, agricultural pricing, integrated water management, capacity, unsuccessful delivery of public services, mismanagement of food products and crop insurance. With over 1.2 billion people to feed, addressing the issue of food wastage is essential for India to combat hunger and improving food security.
Free trade will help make up the difference between production and consumption needs, reduce supply variability, increase efficiency in resource-use and permit production in regions more suited to it. To reduce illiteracy, the food security need can be productively linked to increased enrolment in schools.
With the phasing out of PDS, food coupons may be issued to poor people depending on their entitlement. The government policy needs to adopt an integrated policy framework to promote the use of irrigation and newer farming techniques. The measures should focus mainly on rationale distribution of cultivable land, improving the size of the farms and providing security to the tenant cultivators apart from providing the farmers with improved technology for cultivation and improved inputs like irrigation facilities, availability of better quality seeds, fertilizers and credits at lower interest rates. Harvesting, handling and storage losses, and top-level crop production are considered to be the key intervention phases for improving food security.